Musings from Sister Janet on “White Privilege”

Recently I have been musing about racism, and it is not just because of Charlottesville, though that has had something to do with it. It is rather because of the general ferment in our country. And I have not been musing about racism generally, but rather about “white privilege” in particular because of a paper I read recently by Peggy McIntosh, PhD, of the Wellesley College Center for Research for Women.

After reading the paper I mused about my personal white privilege. I am a child of the ‘40s and early ‘50s of Louisville, Kentucky’s West End —a child raised in an all-white environment, a child, that until my elder years, could not name white privilege for what it is— a societal sin of which I am a part.

Because my skin is white, I could always sit at the lunch counter at Kresge’s on Fourth Street in Louisville and be served without question. Because my skin is white, I never had to move to the Jim Crow car when I came from West Virginia into Kentucky on the way home from visiting my cousins. I know now that this is white privilege.

Because I have white skin, I could go to Fontaine Ferry Amusement Park (Louisville’s answer to Coney Island), swim in its pool, skate at its roller rink, and dance at its Gypsy Village without question. I am almost certain that there were no dolls but white dolls in the Sears Roebuck Catalogue I saw at Christmas time or on the shelves in Montgomery Ward where my mother shopped. Neither were there band aids that were not white, nor “flesh-colored” crayons in the box of 28 that were not a pinkish-white. I know now that all this is white privilege.

The textbooks that I grew up with told history’s story from the perspective of the dominant culture which was white. The Faith and Freedom readers that I read
and taught had stories about white Catholic heroes— all white, all Catholic, and all men— a triple whammy, so to speak.

“But surely this is all in the past,” you say. “White privilege doesn’t exist today.” Well, I’m not so sure. Because of the color of my skin, I can shop without someone walking behind me to be sure I won’t steal. If a traffic cop pulled me over today, I could be pretty sure that would not be because of the color of my skin. And in magazines and children’s books today, I could be pretty sure of finding pictures of people with my skin color.

All this is white privilege. All this is something I’ve not been aware of until recently. Now I see this as racism. Now I see it as white privilege, as something that is part of my culture. And I am aware that those in our Ursuline family who have brown or black skin experience white privilege differently from those of us who have white skin.

So, here are two questions for all of us: “How have you experienced white privilege? And what can all of us—brown, black, or white—do about it?”

 

(The Windsor Star-Cec Southward) HISTORICKresge counter

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